Janine Erler is a star of Danish cancer research. She is professor at the University of Copenhagen, group leader at the university’s Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) and member at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. Her earlier research led to the discovery of the key role of the enzyme lysyl oxidase (LOX) in hypoxia-induced cancer metastasis, postulated during her research stay in Stanford University in USA, in her seminal Nature paper 12 years ago, Erler et al Nature 2006. Next year, the entrepreneur Erler co-founded the company Arresto Biosciences, ready to market an LOX inhibitory antibody simtuzumab. A phase 1 clinical trial began, and in 2010 the business was sold to the pharma giant Gilead for $225mn. The clinical trial on 32 patients completed in 2012, unfortunately Dr Erler and her clinical collaborators were too busy to post any results or publish any papers about the outcomes. It was assumed however that LOX inhibition by simtuzumab “led to reduction in size of several solid tumors”. Even before that phase 1 trial completed, phase 2 on 250 patients with with metastatic pancreatic adenocarcinoma began, and ended in 2015. Yet for some reason, the LOX inhibitor suddenly proved no more effective than a placebo (Benson et al 2017), meaning it had no effect whatsoever. In November 2016, Gilead dropped the product completely. Not the first time when many millions get wasted in clinical research just because something was published in Nature. Never mind the burdens and false hopes given to patients.
In 2008, Erler was group leader at the ICR London (known for highly creative cancer research) and in 2012, she moved her lab to BRIC. In 2016, the European elite funding institution European Research Council (ERC) recognised the potential of Erler’s innovative approach to scientific discoveries and awarded her with €2mn Consolidator grant for 5 years. Without false modesty, Dr Erler is not just a very successful businesswoman and celebrated scientist, but she has also been very close to curing cancer. Until some sad envious bad-wishers found duplicated gel bands in her papers.
Luckily, neither BRIC nor ERC were bothered. When I received two dossiers with evidence of data manipulation, I tried to send them to ERC Standing Committee on Conflict of Interests, Scientific Misconduct and Ethical Issues, but I was made to understand that I am not welcome. Just like the ERC press office, the members of the committee refused to reply to my emails. Incidentally, the head of that Committee and ERC Vice-president is the Danish chemist Klaus Bock, senior executive with Danish beer maker Carlsberg and the Danish National Research Foundation. Which probably means that Denmark’s star scientist Janine Erler not only has friends in high places, but also free beer.
Continue reading “Janine Erler dossiers which ERC does not want”
Sonia Melo is back, and not to be messed with. The Portuguese zombie scientist is responsible for a number of papers with manipulated data (only one was retracted, Melo et al, Nature Genetics, 2009), saw her EMBO Young Investigator funding withdrawn in 2016, but was whitewashed and reinstalled by her employing institute Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde (I3S) in Porto. Her key publication in Nature with MD Anderson professor Raghu Kalluri, Melo et al, 2015, which raised obscene money in industrial and public investment for Kalluri’s spin-off Codyak Biosciences to market exosome-based liquid biopsy for pancreatic cancer detection, was disproven as an artefact at best, the authors even admitted in a follow-up preprint to have intentionally manipulated flow cytometry data to achieve results they needed. Collaborators were instructed never to work with her again. All in all, Melo is as toxic as a zombie scientist can be. But apparently not in her home country Portugal.
In March 2018, Melo received a Prémio FAZ Ciência award from Fundação AstraZeneca (FAZ) and Sociedade Portuguesa de Oncologia (Portuguese Society of Oncology, SPO). Which means, not just Portuguese academia, also international Big Pharma industry trusts her Photoshop skills. The award comes with €35k cash, and this is how much or how little was needed for the University of Porto to drop all pretence at research integrity and celebrate their zombie scientist as a genius researcher about to cure cancer. Continue reading “Zombie scientist Sonia Melo awarded by AstraZeneca”
News from the trachea transplant entrepreneurs. What with the UK authorities having officially suspended both phase 1 clinical trials Inspire and RegenVox, and the EU phase 2 clinical trial TETRA going nowhere, the technology’s owner, Liverpool-based company Videregen decided to seek new clinical partners. Surgeons and universities from outside the EU, especially from US, China and Japan are invited to test Videregen’s trachea transplant technology, which was originally developed together with Paolo Macchiarini by the UCL laryngologist and paid Videregen advisor Martin Birchall.
While tracheal stenosis was the indication sought to treat with trachea transplants in UK and EU (as the authorities drew curtains before the show even started), Videregen now goes for bronchopleural fistula, while pretending (quite dishonestly) that “all required regulatory and ethical approvals necessary to commence clinical trials in the UK” would exist.
The other bit of news is that UCL finally published the 2015 PhD thesis of Birchall’s student Claire Crowley (now postdoctoral scientist in charge of clinical research on oesophagus replacement with UCL professor and another trachea transplanter Paolo De Coppi). It reads as if certain parts of the thesis were edited or even written by UCL’s legal department. Not what thesis says, but what is omitted is worrisome. Crowley was namely responsible for the production of 3 trachea replacements requested by Birchall, which all proved deadly to their human recipients. One was a decellurised cadaveric graft, and two were POSS-PCU plastic tracheas, which Crowley made herself, in the lab of her other advisor, the (now sacked) UCL nanotechnologist Alexander Seifalian. Yet the thesis only mentions one graft, in a brief one-page statement, simply because Crowley could not deny her role there. She is co-author on the Macchiarini paper Jungebluth et al Lancet 2011 telling the alleged success story of the very first plastic trachea transplant performed in Sweden on the patient Andemariam Beyene. Otherwise, Crowley never mentions in her thesis the cases of Keziah Shorten or Shauna Davison, whose lethal trachea grafts she also made herself, as part of her PhD studies. Continue reading “Trachea transplanters without borders”
The pharma giant Pfizer announced to continue investigating the data manipulations committed by their former cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin, retractions of two more publications were requested and yet another paper’s fate is being currently decided. Again it is about studies of pharmacological inhibitors of cancer molecular pathways which Yin’s former lab at the Pfizer California research site has faked. These two retraction requests come is addition to 5 Yin retractions which Pfizer already announced on my site in October 2016 and which meanwhile happened. The PubPeer-listed evidence was first presented on my site in May 2016. Back then, the reader of my site, who posted that evidence of duplicated western blots on PubPeer and alerted me to it, preferred to remain unnamed. Now however, she agreed to be named: it was the microbiologist, image integrity specialist and host of the successful public outreach blog Microbiome Digest, Elisabeth Bik. She now forwarded to me this message: Continue reading “Pfizer announces more retractions for sacked lab head Min-Jean Yin, whistleblower revealed”
Five months ago, I reported about data integrity concerns in 6 publications authored by Min-Jean Yin, who had been working at the pharma giant Pfizer in La Jolla, California, as Senior Principal Scientist since 2003. One paper, where she contributed as a collaborator (Lamoureux et al, European Urology, 2014), has been corrected already in March 2016. Five other cancer research papers, on the efficiency of Pfizer’s own pharmacological enzyme inhibitors, will now be retracted, after an investigation performed by Pfizer confirmed the suspicions of data manipulation, originally raised on PubPeer. These five papers stemmed directly from the Pfizer lab which Yin used to be in charge of. Used to be – because according to her recently updated LinkedIn profile, Yin doesn’t work there anymore. Since September 2016, she joined a rather unremarkable Californian biotech start-up Diagnologix LLC in San Diego, as “General Manager”. With such a career (and surely also salary) setback, it is safe to assume Yin did not leave Pfizer after 13 years of service entirely voluntarily. Continue reading “5 retractions and a sack for Pfizer lead cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin”
The trachea surgeon and formerly world-renowned stem cell pioneer Paolo Macchiarini, whose human experimenting left most of his trachea-transplant patients dead or in permanent emergency care, certainly did not intend to restrict himself to regenerating airways. He wanted to grow hearts, and he was likely to have been inspired by his former colleagues in Hannover, Germany.
In a particularly revealing interview with a Russian magazine, Macchiarini explained in spring 2014 how an entire organ can be created:
“You cannot grow an entire organ from the cells of an adult human. Besides the cells, you need something else: donor organ or an artificial carcass”.
Thus, for Macchiarini regenerative medicine was reduced to pressing bone marrow cells into the right mould, either a decellurised donor organ consisting only of collagen fibres, or a plastic scaffold. If the form is of trachea, the bone marrow cells will regenerate a trachea. If the form is that of an oesophagus, they will grow an oesophagus. And if they are seeded of a heart-shaped scaffold, they will produce a real beating heart. This of course is one deeply ignorant and unscientific notion, which blatantly disregards the most basic concepts of developmental biology in favour of medical hubris and false promises. Shockingly, politicians, media, university doctors and even stem cell scientists somehow fell for it. Continue reading “Regenerating in Hannover, Part 1: how Macchiarini got ideas”
Image manipulations are unfortunately a rather widespread practice in biomedical literature, where a large part of research data in figures consists of microscopy or gel images. Some of the most commonly detected issues in this regard are image duplications. These can range from possible negligence like duplicated western blot images, to deliberate data fabrication, evidenced by duplications of select image fragments such as gel bands. Sometimes, it is difficult to believe in the accidental nature of duplications: I reported of a case where one single western blot put an appearance whole twelve times in several publications by the Brazilian diabetes researcher Mario Saad and his colleagues. Some of his papers have been retracted by now.
Elisabeth Bik is not only a competent microbiologist at Stanford University and public-outreach-blogger, she is also a human image fabrication detector. Even the most cleverly spliced band duplications are unlikely to be overlooked by Bik, who by now screened over 20,000 papers from 40 different journals for duplications and other image irregularities. For her project, Dutch-born microbiologist teamed up with colleagues and known research integrity activists Arturo Casadevall and Ferric Fang (who previously established misconduct as lead cause of retractions and demanded a reform of the Nobel Prize). The trio presented the results of Bik’s analysis in a bioarxiv-preprint titled “The Prevalence of Inappropriate Image Duplication in Biomedical Research Publications”, where they calculated that
“3.8% of published papers contained problematic figures, with at least half exhibiting features suggestive of deliberate manipulation”.
Continue reading “Image integrity concerns in papers from a Pfizer lab”